There’s a very famous poem by William Carlos Williams that’s used in every poetry portion of every American Lit class with the sole purpose of making every high school student ask the question “so what makes a poem a poem?”
It goes like this:
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
I don’t remember what the current criticism on this poem says – how or why it’s important and according to whom. I’m sure that I listened raptly to all of the class discussions about it. I’m sure I volleyed grandiose (yet vague) assertions that Williams’ form changed the entire craft of poetry or something. I’m sure because that’s what I did in high school: considered the universal impact of every tiny thing.
What strikes me about the poem right now – on a Wednesday night when I’m very tired and up too late with a glass of wine at my own private after-party of a lovely evening with friends – is how grocery list-like it is. Just a quickly jotted list of thoughts as they occur: This is just to say, I ate the plums – oh, you know, the ones in the fridge. You were probably going to have them tomorrow. I’m sorry but they were really good. And another thing…
I’ve written notes to Galen like that.
You’re back at 4, right
No ornamentation, no frippery (which is a great word that I don’t think I’ve used before). Just the thing, right now. This is just to say.
I’ve been thinking about that title tonight: this is just to say. It’s almost an apology for the lack of detail that’s about to follow, but not quite. It’s too direct, too about-my-business. I’m sorry if you were looking for more, but that’s clearly your mistake – this is all I promised I would bring. I’ve been thinking about that because that’s how my brain feels this week. There’s so much going on, so many things I need to be doing and feeling and processing and preparing. But strangely, I’m feeling incapable of thinking thoughts in their proper context. Of cushioning my thoughts and feelings artfully. My brain isn’t artful right now; it’s a place of bullet-point lists and spreadsheets. Of This is just to say‘s. I’m incapable of processing anything other than the thing directly in front of me, like a horse with blinders on. (Which, by the way, you can still see pulling carriages for tourists in the Loop most summer days. I wonder how they deal with the sound of cars.) Sometimes that inability to look around feels like a small mercy. Sometimes – in moments of leisure, such as now – it’s a little debilitating. I’d like to be aware of what I’m feeling in this last week in Chicago. I’d like to write an artful piece about our apartment, our city, our friends, our crazy weekend in Nantucket (of all places!) that we just returned from. I’d like to write about how it feels to step out of working at a church that has become my entire life; how I imagine it will feel (or will have felt, depending on the time of writing) on our last Sunday when I dismiss the congregants by saying, “Let us go forth into the world in peace, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”
But all of those things drift in and out of my mind between so many other things right now that it’s impossible to focus on them for long. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, either. It’s just a thing I’m noting. I probably spend too much of my time, in other seasons of life, trying to artfully phrase or couch the thing I mean to say. Maybe this is good.
Still, I’m a verbal processor, and when I don’t write, I get crazy and cluttered. So maybe a compromise is best. In other words…
This is just to say that we’re doing alright.
This is just to say that we have an apartment to move into now, which is a huge relief.
This is just to say that we’re moving a week from today – by which I mean a week from yesterday, since it’s now after midnight and technically Thursday.
August will be rough.
I hope we can paint our new apartment.
I hope I can get a car quickly.
Packing is lousy.
I still don’t know for sure what I’ll be doing for a job after this week.
We’re living in a room full of boxes and it’s driving me crazy.
Our kitchen is messy. (How is the kitchen messy? We didn’t cook today.)
I love Chicago. Chicago is scrappy in a way that no other city I’ve seen is, and I’m going to miss that.
I’m going to miss living by a beach.
I had a dream last night that I suddenly discovered another room in the apartment with five pieces of furniture that we’d forgotten to plan for (to sell? to give away? to throw away? to carry with us???)
Right now, I am trying to navigate working full-time, packing full-time, and prepping for an interview and sample teaching in Houston and my head is about to explode. Today I was sitting and responding to emails and suddenly my pulse was literally throbbing in my neck and it was the weirdest feeling.
I am covered in bug bites from Nantucket. Like really gnarly ones.
I’m afraid of not finding another church like ours. I have been humbled and emboldened through work there these years more than I have in any other setting in my entire life.
I’m very, very aware (in a sense) that life is about to change drastically. It still feels unreal, though. Like the blinders are firmly in place. I recently remembered a dream I had a few years ago, where I was standing on a roadside somewhere in a forest talking with Mark Lewis about being worried about the future. He leaned out over the paved road, craned his neck to see further around the bend, and said, “Sometimes I like to just… take a look ahead.” Shocked, I said, “You can do that?!” And he said, “Oh yes. You just always have to come back.” The dream ended as I stepped out onto the pavement to join him, to peer ahead into my future. I woke up then, but with the profound sense that I knew exactly what was going to happen that day.
So all this to say, I think everything will work out.
And my neighbor is definitely growing pot in his window.